Simon Marcus Gower
“Why would I want to eat sitting in the middle of a rice field?” was the near-agitated question of a friend upon hearing the idea of going to dine at Sapu Lidi, where one of the “attractions” is indeed dining surrounded by rice fields.
He went on: “Aren’t they wet and muddy? I prefer dry and clean for my dining.” Fair enough, but let’s be realistic — you don’t really sit in the middle of a rice field at Sapu Lidi.
All of this is really decoration and not at all wet and muddy. So there is something a little bit misleading about the idea of “dining among rice fields.”
There is also something misleading about the name of this place. Located in the hills north of Bandung, “Sapu Lidi” does not really intimate that this is a place for dining and relaxation.
Sapu Lidi can be translated as a “broom made from the stem of a palm tree leaf.” This hardly suggests that the destination is going to be a place where relaxing dining takes place. But the choice of name becomes clearer upon arrival and after a little exploring.
It becomes immediately obvious that this is a place where “traditional” design and construction is at the fore. In the lobby entrance, which is also a sizeable boutique-type gift shop, the decor is dominated by timber, bamboo and thatch. It’s the thatch that connects to the name.
There are bungalows, gazebos and larger cabins that all have roofs that are thatched with the stems of palm tree leaves. This thick thatch hangs heavily over the roofs and, though quite dry, has the look of being quite organic, as if it had grown that way.
The thatch is dense and hangs over the roofs, almost giving them the appearance of being heads of hair in need of a trim. But this is a place of rustic appeal and the clipped tidiness of a city would not be in keeping with the whole look and feel.
The shop tends to be more of an attraction for the ladies. The wife of one visitor was glowing as she remarked, “I bought a lovely batik scarf and a very attractive gift set of aromatic massage oils. I didn’t expect to get these here.”
Perhaps this is a place of the unexpected. The rice fields do provide a scenic feel. A weary looking scarecrow stands guard, but this is not a busy place. The rice fields and lakes add to the relaxed ambience and diners do not feel wet or muddy.
This is all decoration. It might seem a bit artificial, but it is attractive and it adds to the atmosphere. This is a place designed for people to restfully dine beneath these thatched roofs, with the wait staff capable of summoning local and international dishes.
High on the menu here is seafood, with a variety of fish steamed, fried or grilled, and often wrapped in banana leaves just to add a little extra flavor and more of a feeling of “traditional dining.”
Sapu Lidi’s menu offers three languages: English for the international crowd, Bahasa Indonesia for the nationalists and for that local flavor, Sundanese.
The menu highlights “tuangeun ti laut,” “makanan laut” or “seafood,” and the reader may also encounter “hayam,” “ayam” or “chicken.” Humorously, “domba,” or “kambing,” is translated as “coat,” when of course it should read “goat,” but minor errors aside, the menu is filled with plenty of choice.
Often dishes are accompanied by Sapu Lidi’s own special sauce, which adds flavor and spice. The menu refers to it as an “extraordinary sauce” and while the menu may once again lead to a smile, “extraordinary” is not a misplaced word here. Some of these sauces are indeed extraordinary.
“That’s the hottest chili I have ever had!” exclaimed an Indonesian friend who needed a glass of water and a fan after tasting it. A look of pride came over the waiter’s face as he noted, “Our chef considers it to be quite unique.”
Uniquely dangerous it might be said. For a Westerner’s palate, this uniqueness may be best avoided.
In the shop, local snacks can be bought, but most of the floor space consists of accessories and jewelry that should keep the female shopper happy. A sign announces “Souvenirs of Sapu Lidi,” but perhaps souvenirs are not really necessary. Good memories of pleasant dining in a green setting are what most people will take away from here.